The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest butterfly occurring in the United States, with a wingspan that can reach 6″.  The larvae are sometimes called ‘Orange Dogs’ due to their host plants being members of the Citrus (Rutaceae) family.  They also feed on noncommercial members of this family, including a Florida native, Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara).  Common Rue (Ruta graveolens), an herb in the citrus family is also a host to this butterfly.  Females lay single eggs on the top of leaves, and when they hatch, the larvae resemble bird droppings.  They feed right in the middle of the upper surface of the leaf, and since they resemble a bird dropping, they avoid predation.  As the larvae age, their appearance changes to somewhat resemble a snake head which is the color of the branches of the tree, and camoflages them nicely.  If a bird or lizard should get close to them, they protrude a forked orange scent gland called an osmeterium, resembling a snake’s tongue, which emits a foul smell, to deter any predator.  Finally, the chrysalis is also well camoflaged, resembling a small twig.

Papilio cresphontes on Cestrum aurantiacum (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Yellow Jasmine)

Papilio cresphontes egg on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Egg on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Larva on Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva showing its red osmeterium on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes chrysalis on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis on Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes chrysalis on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis on Wild Lime)

Ruta graveolens (Common Rue)

Zanthoxylum fagara (Wild Lime)

Zanthoxylum fagara (Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes on Bauhinia divaricata (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Butterfly Orchid Tree)


Florida Natives

Richard Lyons’ Nursery has a large selection of Florida Native Plants for the landscape.  Here are just a few to choose from:

Acacia farnesiana (Sweet Acacia)

Argusia gnaphalodes (Sea Lavender)

Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine)

Callicarpa americana (American Beautyberry)

Glandularia maritima (Coastal Mock Vervain)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae Fruit)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae)

Helianthus debilis (Dune Sunflower)

Ipomoea microdactyla (Calcareous Morning Glory)

Mimosa strigillosa (Sensitive Plant)

Myrcianthes fragrans (Simpson’s Stopper)

Myrcianthes fragrans (Simpson’s Stopper)

Passiflora suberosa (Corky Stem Passion Vine)

Passiflora suberosa (Corky Stem Passion Vine Fruit)

Pithecellobium keyense (Blackbead)

Pithecellobium keyense (Blackbead Seeds)

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee)

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee)

Psychotria nervosa (Wild Coffee)

Psychotria sulzneri (Shortleaf Wild Coffee)

Ruellia caroliniensis (Carolina Wild Petunia)

Salvia coccinea (Scarlet Sage)

Senna ligustrina (Privet Wild Sensitive Plant)

Senna mexicana var. chapmanii (Chapman’s Senna)

Serenoa repens (Saw Palmetto)

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (Native Blue Porterweed)

Symphyotrichum dumosum (Rice Button Aster)

Ming Fern (Asparagus macowanii)

Despite its name, the ming fern is a flowering plant and not a fern at all.   It produces white flowers in the spring to early summer.  It is in the same genus as the edible cultivated perennial vegetable, Asparagus officinalis.

Ming Ferns do well in full sun as well as shaded locations.  A native to arid regions of South Africa, this is a very drought tolerant plant.  It can reach a height of 4-6′ when grown in the ground, but can also be grown in containers to achieve a much smaller plant.

Whether you want to grow one in the garden or maintain one in a decorative pot on a balcony or patio, we have many to choose from in 3 gal. containers for $10.00 each.

Asparagus macowanii (Ming Fern)

Asparagus macowanii (Ming Fern)

Asparagus macowanii (Ming Fern)


If you are only passingly familiar with cycads, you’re missing out on one of the most ancient and interesting representatives of the plant kingdom.  The first cycads arose somewhere around 280 million years ago, but came into their own in the Jurassic Period, the same time dinosaurs began to dominate, roughly 200 to 145 million years ago.  But you can’t say that’s when cycads really flowered, because they’re not flowering plants.  Significantly more primitive than flowering plants, they reproduce by way of cones, some of which are very large and/or colorful.

Cycads are dioecious, that is, each is either male or female.  In many species, when seeds reach full size, they still don’t have an embryo.  That requires a wait of several additional months.  And, unlike what we are used to seeing in more modern plants, the flesh that covers the seed is not considered fruit, even though many animals eat it; it is known instead as sarcotesta.  Although cycads contain a toxin, humans discovered that it is water-soluble and have long processed the stems for food.  One such plant is Zamia integrifolia, formerly Zamia pumila, the only cycad native to the U.S.A.  Native American tribes found that the starchy subterranean stem, or caudex, could be rendered into a bread.  Eventually the name coontie, derived from a Seminole phrase, was applied to this cycad.

Nearly 200 years ago, settlers around what would become Ft. Lauderdale learned the technique for making coontie edible, and by 1845 a number of starch mills had sprung up in the future Broward and Dade counties, where large colonies of the cycad grew.   By around 100 years ago, the name Florida Arrowroot had been applied to the coontie starch.  During the early years in Miami, mills would take barrels of the plump roots to Brickell’s Trading Post, from where they would go by schooner to Key West for sale to northern biscuit makers.

The peak of coontie processing occurred during the first two decades of the twentieth century.  During World War I, the federal government bought large quantities of processed coontie starch because it was apparently the first food identified that mustard gas victims could tolerate.  In 1919 the largest coontie mill relocated from along the New River in Ft. Lauderdale to Kendall in Dade County, specifically the southwest corner of U.S. 1 and South Kendall Dr., the present-day SW 104th St.  One of the mill’s customers was Nabisco.  But by 1925 the last commercial starch mill closed its doors.  There were two reasons for the rapid rise and descent of the industry:  Zamia integrifolia is a very slow-growing plant, and its vast populations could not be replaced as fast as they were being dug up.  Moreover, human settlement in southern Florida meant that many coonties were being lost to land-clearing activities to build housing subdivisions.

Depletion of the cycad did more than ruin the arrowroot starch industry.  It very nearly wiped out the population of Atala butterflies (Eumaeus atala), whose larvae feed on the leaflets of Zamia integrifolia.  In fact, by the middle of the twentieth century, government experts at both the state and federal levels concluded that the butterfly was extinct.  Perhaps because it was considered defunct, the Atala was not placed on the federal Endangered Species List.  Nevertheless, it began to make a comeback.  Concerned citizens began a breeding program to boost populations, and, in a strange irony, homeowners started installing coonties as ornamental plants on the very lands from which the species had been ousted by urban development!

If you would like to play a role in not only restoring the Atala butterfly population, but also adding a decorative touch to your home landscape, be sure to come by the nursery to see our supply of Zamia integrifolia.  We have them available in 1-gal. and 3-gal. containers.

Zamia integrifolia (Coontie)

Zamia integrifolia Cone (Coontie)

Zamia integrifolia Cone (Coontie)

Eumaeus atala eggs on Zamia integrifolia (Atala Butterfly Eggs on Florida Coontie)

Eumaeus atala Larva on Zamia integrifolia (Atala Butterfly Larva on Coontie)

Eumaeus atala chrysalis on Zamia integrifolia (Atala Butterfly Chrysalis on Florida Coontie)

Eumaeus atala (Adult Atala Butterfly)

Fukien Tea Plant

The Fukien Tea Plant is named for the Fukien or Fujien Province of S. China where it is native.  Its botanical name which most people are familiar with is Carmona microphylla.  However, recently it has been renamed Ehretia buxifolia.  It is a member of the Boraginaceae family, or Borage Family.  In the Philippines, the leaves are used medicinally to treat coughs, colic, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Fukien Tea Plants are commonly used for bonsai specimens due to their small glossy leaves, white flowers, and tiny red fruits.  However, in S. Florida it can be used as a hedge or stand alone small tree or shrub obtaining a height of 10-12′.  The nursery has large full plants in 3 gal. containers.

Here is another interesting use of Fukien Tea in the Philippines.

Carmona microphylla (Fukien Tea Bonsai)

Carmona microphylla (Fukien Tea Hedge)

Carmona microphylla (Fukien Tea Informal Hedge)

Carmona microphylla (Fukien Tea 3gal. Pots)